July 27, 2015

Visiting Mammoth Site With Kids

I’ve never had more than a passing interest in dinosaurs and prehistoric creatures. But ever since I read about Hudson-Meng Bison Kill site in Nebraska, my interest was piqued on major archeological digs in the Midwest. What would it be like to see a massive dig site in person?

The question leads to why I wanted to include a stop at Mammoth Site in Hot Springs during our South Dakota road trip. The answer: You’ll be impressed by the experience.

The number of bones uncovered at Mammoth Site is impressive.

The number of bones uncovered at Mammoth Site is impressive.

More than 60 Columbian and woolly mammoths have been identified there, as well as a number surprising (to me) fossils of camels, llamas and giant short-faced bears, to name just a couple here.

 

What to expect

Let’s all breathe a sigh of relief: It’s in a climate-controlled building (AKA air-conditioned).

A partial view of the excavation area at Mammoth Site in Hot Springs, South Dakota.

A partial view of the excavation area at Mammoth Site in Hot Springs, South Dakota.

You’ll want to take a tour, which includes a short film in the beginning and a guided walk around the “in-situ” exhibit (fancy talk for bones being on display as they were discovered).

You get headphones to wear so you can hear your guide. My 3-year-old hated them with a passion.

Photography is allowed, but you’re encouraged to wait until after the tour so that you don’t miss whatever the guide is showing next. It’s so tempting, though, to want to snap photos in the moment.

Tools used at Mammoth Site to uncover bones.

Tools used at Mammoth Site to uncover bones.

After the tour, you’re free to roam, then proceed to the next door. It’s full of interesting replicas, including a mammoth model and a walk-in mammoth bone hut. There’s a gift shop full of books, stuffed animals and apparel.

A replica of a hut made out of mammoth bones in Muller Exhibit Hall.

A replica of a hut made out of mammoth bones in Muller Exhibit Hall.

 

Tips

We lucked out and saw Mammoth Site Excavation Committee members at work during our visit. However, the people who timed their visit about 30 minutes after us missed them during their lunch break. Time your visit around the noon hour.

It's pretty fascinating to watch the work being done at Mammoth Site.

It’s pretty fascinating to watch the work being done at Mammoth Site.

There picnic tables for lunch time, if you packed accordingly. The tables aren’t far from an outdoor work site.

Near the picnic tables is a work space for the volunteers to sift through dirt to find tiny fossils.

Near the picnic tables is a work space for the volunteers to sift through dirt to find tiny fossils. You might luck out and catch someone at work.

Near Mammoth Site is the restaurant Woolly’s Western Grill. It’s a kid-friendly place to get a bite to eat.

 

Bringing little ones here

How did these two do at an active dig site?

How did these two do at an active dig site?

My kids are 3 and 5, so not exactly at the grade levels that have been studying any of this in school. That said, they’ve at least read “Magic Treehouse” books and know a thing or two about woolly Mammoths and other prehistoric creatures, so they’ve got that going.

There are items on display at Mammoth Site that encourage visitors to touch, which appeals to kids.

There are items on display at Mammoth Site that encourage visitors to touch, which appeals to kids.

My 3-year-old daughter, Mooch, lost interest early on in the tour; our 5-year-old fared better. The tour guide provides a lot of facts, but there’s very little hands-on things to keep the truly young interested.

I think one of the best options for families with little kids is to register them in one of the kids activities offered there – in the summer, there are two types of  junior paleontologist classes, which sound like the perfect hands-on learning my kids would like; unfortunately, it didn’t fit with our travel schedule. There’s also an Atlatl Throwing Experience that sounded intriguing.

 

If you go

Mammoth Site of Hot Springs

Where: 1800 US 18 Bypass, Hot Springs, South Dakota

Hours: Open year-round, hours vary depending on the time of year. Details

Cost: Adults (13+), $10; seniors (60+), $9; kids (4-12), $8; kids 3 and younger, FREE. Summer classes are $10-$20.

Website

Disclaimer: The Hot Springs tourism office provided complimentary admission to Mammoth Site of Hot Springs for me and my family. All opinions and thoughts expressed here are my own.

 

* * * * *

Planning a trip to South Dakota and Western Nebraska? I wrote a series of posts and reviews of kid-friendly attractions, lodging and a photo-heavy trip recap. Check them out:

Nebraska and South Dakota Adventure With Kids

Canoeing the Niobrara River with Kids

Comfort Suites and Convention Center (Rapid City, South Dakota)

Firehouse Brewing Company (Rapid City, South Dakota)

Reptile Gardens (Rapid City, South Dakota)

Dakotah Steakhouse (Rapid City, South Dakota)

The Hills Inn (Hot Spring, South Dakota)

Evans Plunge (Hot Springs, South Dakota)

Chadron State Park (Chadron, Nebraska)

Fort Robinson State Park (Harrison, Nebraska)

July 22, 2015

Hot Springs Hills Inn In The Southern Black Hills

Hot Springs, South Dakota, is one of the southernmost cities of the Black Hills, and one that attracts tourists for a couple reasons. The big draws are Mammoth Site and Evans Plunge.

It’s a small town that feels less touristy than many others in the region. Mr. Wonderful and I marveled at the castle-like appearance of some buildings, thanks to the interesting sandstone architecture throughout the town.

There’s also a neat waterfall along a trail that passes through town.

Hot Springs has a waterfall in the middle of town.

Hot Springs has a waterfall in the middle of town.

So if you have a budding paleontologist in the family or just want to cool off in a big pool, you may find yourself in Hot Springs.

Where to stay

Hot Springs Hills Inn invited my family to stay two nights while we explored the area. Hot Springs was a town I had on my itinerary on because I wanted to take the kids to Mammoth Site, and because it was close enough to Wind Cave National Park and Custer State Park. It was a nice homebase for exploring the southern region of the Black Hills.

About Hills Inn

The Hills Inn in Hot Springs, South Dakota

The Hills Inn in Hot Springs, South Dakota

If you search customer-rated sites on attractions or lodging, you’ll find The Hills Inn as one of the top ranked options in Hot Springs, if not the top one. The Hills Inn is a family-run motel with a small outdoor pool and a putt putt golf course connected on site (which is FREE to motel guests). Wally greets the guests at the front desk, he’s a friendly guy.

A view of the putt-putt golf course next to Hills Inn. Guests at the motel can play for free.

A view of the putt-putt golf course next to Hills Inn. Guests at the motel can play for free.

As far as motels go, this is as clean as I’ve ever seen them, with a few extra amenities I don’t expect from a motel, like the FREE breakfast. Running from 6:30 to 9 a.m., there is a small assortment of items from fresh fruit and cereal, to bagels and toast…and my kids’ favorite, chocolate donuts.

We took advantage of the breakfast during our stay, bringing our plates, orange juice and coffee to a table poolside. There’s a small dining room off the lobby, as well.

Breakfast poolside at The Hills Inn, located in Hot Springs, South Dakota.

Breakfast poolside at The Hills Inn, located in Hot Springs, South Dakota.

The other amenities I thought were nice touches: A 40-inch TV, a refrigerator and microwave. Plus FREE putt-putt which I mentioned earlier. Nice, huh?

The location

It’s super near Mammoth Site and Evans Plunge. Further afield is Wind Cave National Park (I’d guess about 10 minutes away) and Custer State Park (30 minutes).

Hot Springs’ Freedom Trail is near the motel, and if you walk it, you’re about a mile or so from that waterfall I mentioned earlier.

 

If you go

Hot Springs Hills Inn

Where: 640 S. Sixth St., Hot Springs, South Dakota

Website

 

More about Hot Springs

There is a coffee maker in the room at The Hills Inn and there’s some included with breakfast, but you may want to venture out for a cup of joe. Hot Springs Coffee Kiosk was a pleasant surprise for me – good stuff.

As far as dining goes in town, you don’t have a lot of choices, but we were happy with what we did pick. All places were pretty close to The Hills Inn. We grabbed tasty dinner to-go one night from T/D Smokin BBQ. We also had dinner at Woolly’s Western Grill (located near Mammoth Site) and a post-Evans Plunge breakfast at Dale’s Family Restaurant (right across the street from it).

 

Disclaimer: My family was provided a complimentary stay at Hills Inn in order for me to write this review. All opinions are my own.

* * * * *

Planning a trip to South Dakota and Western Nebraska? I wrote a series of posts and reviews of kid-friendly attractions, lodging and a photo-heavy trip recap. Check them out:

Nebraska and South Dakota Adventure With Kids

Canoeing the Niobrara River with Kids

Comfort Suites and Convention Center (Rapid City, South Dakota)

Firehouse Brewing Company (Rapid City, South Dakota)

Reptile Gardens (Rapid City, South Dakota)

Dakotah Steakhouse (Rapid City, South Dakota)

Evans Plunge (Hot Springs, South Dakota)

The Hills Inn (Hot Spring, South Dakota)

Mammoth Site (Hot Springs, South Dakota)

Chadron State Park (Chadron, Nebraska)

Fort Robinson State Park (Harrison, Nebraska)

 

 

 

 

 

July 21, 2015

Evans Plunge In Hot Springs, South Dakota

Evans Plunge is one of those attractions in the Black Hills that everyone seems to have been to as a kid. I mention it to several friends, and they each recalled a story from their childhood. Some remember the rocky bottom (the rocks are still there). Some mention how cool the waterslides were.

My first visit was as a mom, so I don’t have that nostalgic recollection. My kids will someday.

I was invited to visit Evans Plunge on my recent family road trip through the Badlands and Black Hills. It’s located in Hot Springs, a small town in southern South Dakota known for nearby hot springs.

This location isn’t in a natural setting of a hot spring, just so you know.

The waterpark in Evans Plunge in Hot Springs, South Dakota.

The water park in Evans Plunge in Hot Springs, South Dakota.

We went early one weekday morning, so we didn’t contend with other tourists save for one other family. Everyone at the pool at that time was local – kids in swim lessons or adults in exercise classes. It meant no lines for the slides.

Evans Plunge is a spring-fed water park of sorts – it’s mostly a large swimming pool with some fun features like kid-friendly water slide, three larger slides and Tarzan swings. The water is warmer than most pools because of the spring water – 87 degrees.

OK, I did not capture this photo. I didn't dare bring my camera in with me to a pool. I know myself! Photo provided by South Dakota Tourism

OK, I did not capture this photo. I didn’t dare bring my camera in with me to a pool. I know myself! Photo provided by South Dakota Tourism

We got lifejackets at the check in for our beginner swimmers. They weren’t needed in the kid pool, which was 3 feet deep with a small frog slide. They were handy in the larger pool. There are also a couple tubes on deck to use.

The waterslides are definitely for big kids (and parents). I only went down one, and while it wasn’t scary fast or anything, I knew better than to ask my kids if they were interested in trying it out.

Since we were there early, I had to ask for the slides to be turned on. And because of the timing of our visit, the outdoor pool wasn’t open yet (it opens at 11 a.m.). But we enjoyed an uncrowded pool and no lines for anything.

You could easily spend an hour here, and likely more when you’re with kids. If you’re feeling the need for some strength training, there is a fitness center upstairs that’s included with admission. Need a snack or lunch? There is a small concession stand there, as well.

The great thing, I learned from one helpful lady at the pool, is that our wristbands are good for the whole day. You could leave to eat lunch, nap, whatever, and then return in the evening.

 

If you go

Evans Plunge

Where: 1145 N. River St., Hot Springs, South Dakota

Hours: Mondays through Fridays, 6 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Saturdays and Sundays, 10 to 9 p.m.

Cost: $12 (ages 13+), $10 (ages 3-12), FREE (ages 2 and under). For access to hot tubs, sauna and steam room, add $3.50.

Tip: You can get 25% off your admission if you bring a receipt showing that you’re staying at a hotel, motel or campground in Hot Springs

Website

Disclaimer: Evans Plunge provided a complimentary family pass for my family to visit. All opinions are my own.

 

* * * * *

 

Planning a trip to South Dakota and Western Nebraska? I wrote a series of posts and reviews of kid-friendly attractions, lodging and a photo-heavy trip recap. Check them out:

Nebraska and South Dakota Adventure With Kids

Canoeing the Niobrara River with Kids

Comfort Suites and Convention Center (Rapid City, South Dakota)

Firehouse Brewing Company (Rapid City, South Dakota)

Reptile Gardens (Rapid City, South Dakota)

Dakotah Steakhouse (Rapid City, South Dakota)

The Hills Inn (Hot Spring, South Dakota)

Mammoth Site (Hot Springs, South Dakota)

Chadron State Park (Chadron, Nebraska)

Fort Robinson State Park (Harrison, Nebraska)